Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash
Why is envy green?
Envy eats vipers and the poison of her victuals accumulates and concentrates in her body till her skin erupts in green, festering blisters.
I was reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses with coffee this morning. Ovid was a Roman poet and this work is considered his magnum opus. Anyway, in book 2 there is this incredible description of Envy. Minerva is super mad at Aglauros, so she goes to Envy to ask her to curse Agrauros with a touch.
[Minerva] Then sought out Envy in her dark abode,
Defil’d with ropy gore and clots of blood:
Shut from the winds, and from the wholesome skies,
In a deep vale the gloomy dungeon lies,
Dismal and cold, where not a beam of light
Invades the winter, or disturbs the night.
Directly to the cave her course she steer’d;
Against the gates her martial lance she rear’d;
The gates flew open, and the fiend appear’d.
A pois’nous morsel in her teeth she chew’d,
And gorg’d the flesh of vipers for her food.
Minerva loathing turn’d away her eye;
The hideous monster, rising heavily,
Came stalking forward with a sullen pace,
And left her mangled offals on the place.
Soon as she saw the goddess gay and bright,
She fetch’d a groan at such a chearful sight.
Livid and meagre were her looks, her eye
In foul distorted glances turn’d awry;
A hoard of gall her inward parts possess’d,
And spread a greenness o’er her canker’d breast;
Her teeth were brown with rust, and from her tongue,
In dangling drops, the stringy poison hung.
She never smiles but when the wretched weep,
Nor lulls her malice with a moment’s sleep,
Restless in spite: while watchful to destroy,
She pines and sickens at another’s joy;
Foe to her self, distressing and distrest,
She bears her own tormentor in her breast.
The Greeks and the Romans had a penchant for personifying emotions and ideas. Personification is a figure of speech were objects and ideas are given human qualities or are represented in human form. Ovid takes the human emotion, envy, and makes it into a person–Envy.
What attracted me to this representation of Envy is that it struck me as true. I’ve seen this creature before, not only in others but in myself as well. It will do us well to look take a careful look at her in order to know the effects of her touch.
The Deep Cover of Envy
Envy’s dwelling is hidden in a “deep vale.”
The vice, envy, is also hidden. Envy is different than the other deadly sins. It is fairly easy to see Wrath and Gluttony, and we aren’t all that embarrassed by them. Some, like Greed and Pride, are even celebrated in our culture–even Lust is celebrated today. But not Envy. We don’t want any one to see our envy. To show envy we’d be admitting that we feel inferior. Envy is so petty. We know it’s petty, and we are embarrassed by it.
Envy personified in hidden away in a dark and “gloomy dungeon” where the air is stagnant; it is “dismal and cold.”
The Envy is Poison
Envy gorges on “the flesh of vipers.” Her appetites are both glutenous and foul. Her heavy rising suggests she is not wasting away, but this is poisoned food. The toxins from the vipers feeds her malice which bubbles in “greenness o’er her canker’d breast.”
As with the diet of Envy personified, the emotion of envy is nourishing as well–we take a small comfort in the misery of others. But this comfort is toxic. The one who envies is in the hideous state of being eaten while eating.
Shakespeare and Ovid are on the same page here:
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
Envy is Different
All the other seven-deadly-sins involve some element of pleasure for the sinner. Not so with envy. Not only do you not enjoy the sin, but the very nature of envy also makes you unable to enjoy the good things you do have. You can’t enjoy your beauty, wealth, strength, intelligence because someone else is more beautiful, richer, stronger, or smarter.
Envy enjoys nothing–she doesn’t enjoy her food; she doesn’t enjoy the beauty of her visitor; she never even enjoys the pleasure of taking a little nap once in a while.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”All the other seven-deadly-sins involve some element of pleasure for the sinner. Not so with envy. Not only do you not enjoy the sin, but the very nature of envy also makes you unable to enjoy the good things you do have.” quote=”All the other seven-deadly-sins involve some element of pleasure for the sinner. Not so with envy. Not only do you not enjoy the sin, but the very nature of envy also makes you unable to enjoy the good things you do have.”]
Envy is immortal, but what happens when she touches you?
Minerva commands Envy to destroy Aglauros, and she does so with a touch. Here’s what happens:
To execute Minerva’s dire command,
She stroak’d the virgin with her canker’d hand,
Then prickly thorns into her breast convey’d,
That stung to madness the devoted maid:
Her subtle venom still improves the smart,
Frets in the blood, and festers in the heart.
To make the work more sure, a scene she drew,
And plac’d before the dreaming virgin’s view
Her sister’s marriage, and her glorious fate:
Th’ imaginary bride appears in state;
The bride-groom with unwonted beauty glows:
For envy magnifies what-e’er she shows.
Full of the dream, Aglauros pin’d away
In tears all night, in darkness all the day;
Consum’d like ice, that just begins to run,
When feebly smitten by the distant sun;
Or like unwholsome weeds, that set on fire
Are slowly wasted, and in smoke expire.
Argros is destroyed by envy of her sister’s marriage–something one would hope would make her happy. Instead, because of envy, she pines away. Melts like ice on a sunny day. Burns up like dry grass in a fire.
Dealing With Envy
Worship of God takes care of envy. By this, I do not necessarily mean singing praise and worship songs in church.
Experience of God’s love and grace erases envy. Where do you experience these things? Songs? Maybe you do. I don’t.
I get it from Word and Sacrament.
But let me focus briefly on the sacrament of communion. In The Lord’s Supper, Christ extends his hand to us and gives us the sacrifice of his body and blood. His death erases my sin and brings me into the family of the Heavenly Father. Nothing is required of me except to accept the offer of this incredible gift. I get so much, for so little.
In the light of the overwhelming Grace of God, how can I be harbour resentment for someone is smarter, or more beautiful, or more wealthy than I am?